D.C. police officer Edward LaBenz, who was convicted last month of changing the price tag on a boy's coat he bought from Sears, has been sentenced to 400 hours of community service and two years probation.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Tim Murphy called LaBenz, 32, "a disgrace to the police department" as he pronounced the sentence, considered harsh for a first offender found guilty of false pretenses.
Murphy said before sentencing LaBenz on Tuesday that he would rather have given the officier a jail term, but would adibe by the prosecutor's recommendation of two years probation.
But Murphy added on the 400 hours of community service, a kind of penalty imposed frequently on persons convicted of nonviolent, victimless crimes.
LaBenz, a 10-year police veteran assigned to the 2nd District plainclothes tactical unit, denied during his two-day trial that he had changed the price from $24.99 to $16.99 on a tan coat he said he was buying for his 8-year-old son.
He testified that he bought the coat after he and his partner went into the Sears store at 4500 Wisconsin Ave. NE looking for two youths they had seen peering into cars in the store's parking lot.
Two Sears security guards testified they watch LaBenz remove one price tag and replace it with one with a lower price.
LaBenz, who was suspended from the police department shortly after his arrest, could end up emptying bedpans at a local hospital, serving food at a soup kitchen, coaching basketball for a police boys club or leading a community Bible study to work out his 10 weeks of community service at 40 hours a week.
Since the Superior Court Community Service Program began on Dec. 1, 1978, about 200 persons have worked more than 20,000 hours in various private and public agencies across the city, according to a recent program status report.
"It would have been easy for me to fine Officier LaBenz $1,000, which he probably could have paid," Murphy said, "or to place him on probation, where with his background he probaby would have had to call in only once a month.
"But this sentence requires him to work 10 weeks full-time." Murphy said. "I think community service is good because th defendent gives something back to the community. It's a kind of restitution for the amount of money spent to give him a fair trial."